The silence in the truck was deafening and unbearable. Neither Sansa nor Sandor were ready to discuss the events of the day, but Sansa had to say something before the atmosphere cracked wide open.
“If you never go into town during the day, how do you get the things you need, your mail, your books?” Sansa asked.
Sandor looked straight ahead through the windshield as he answered. “I have a key to Doc’s place. If I need medical supplies I take them and leave him a note. If I need anything else, I leave him a note and he gets it for me. Doc also picks up my mail and leaves it in his office for me. Sam has an apartment at the back of the library so I just knock on his door and he lets me in. Same with Jerry – he owns the grocery market.”
“Oh.” Sansa sat quietly as Sandor turned onto his private road. She wanted desperately to broach the subject of what she’d witnessed, wanted to tell him she understood, but the truth is that she would never understand. Yes, she was appalled at the behavior of those people, but she would never be on the receiving end of their looks and comments as Sandor always would be.
Sandor watched Sansa out of the corner of his eye. She was quiet and thoughtful. He hoped he hadn’t been too hard on her the day before. He also hadn’t expected her to remain so cool and calm. Sandor could tell by her expression that she hadn’t regretted coming into Leeston with him, being seen with him. In fact, after bumping into Shawn, she had taken his hand to lead him away from the confrontation.
Sandor rubbed one hand over the knuckles of his other, trying to remember what her fingers felt like on his. Sandor wished he could reach over and take her hand and hold onto it tightly. Suddenly, he was warm. He rolled down the window to let the breeze cool him off. Sandor hoped he wasn’t misinterpreting her reaction to all of this. Sansa seemed strong. She didn’t hold the same opinions as others and saw nothing different about him except a severe wound.
All of this made him want to open his heart to her, but he couldn’t - not yet. Not until she knew the whole truth. Sandor just hoped that Sansa would continue to be the same person he had seen in her so far. A battle raged within him. Part of him hoped that she could see past it all. The other part of him had no hope for love from a woman like her to a monster like him.
It would be hard not to try and influence her to get her to see it from his point of view. But Sandor knew that if he tried that and failed, he would only drive Sansa away farther and faster.
Halfway up the private mountain road, Sandor stopped the truck and looked at Sansa. He took a few deep breaths as he looked over her. Despite the slightly worried look on her face, she smiled softly and something inside him crumpled a little. He wanted to be able to let go and throw himself into a freefall, but knew that if he was wrong, it would devastate him. He decided that he just wanted to let her know that he hadn’t given up on her.
“I promise you that I’ll tell you everything you want to know, okay?” Sansa smiled back at him. Sandor was relieved when she held out her hand to him. He accepted it into his with reassurance and continued driving up to the cabin.
Sandor stood in the doorway of the cabin and watched Sansa sit at the table. Sansa waited for him to join her but he just stood there. Sandor was nervous. His hands were shaking and he was sweating. He wondered if Sansa could hear his heart pounding from across the room. He was trying to think of the words he would say to her. Sansa could almost see the thoughts flitting around behind his eyes.
“The reason I could never imagine you wanting to be with me doesn’t have anything to do with way I look,” Sandor finally admitted. He tentatively stepped around the table to the chair facing Sansa. “I knew that from the first time you saw my face.”
Sandor looked as though he was having a hard time breathing. He knew if he didn’t get this out now, he would lose his nerve. He sat down across from Sansa and wrung his hands. It was difficult for him to look at her, but he forced himself to do it.
“The first person I ever killed was my mother,” he told her. “She died in childbirth. I know it wasn’t my fault, but because of me, my father was left with a baby and young son to take care of so he resented me from the moment I was born. We were poor, so my father moved us up into the hills on the other side of Leeston and discovered a way to make a lot of money.” Sandor stopped and looked up at Sansa to see her reaction so far. She was attentive, but Sandor couldn’t read her expression, so he continued.
“My father started a meth lab. I had an aunt in town so she had me most of the time when I was a baby. She wasn’t a very good person, but she wasn’t bad either. My brother, Gregor, was six, but he was still old enough to help out so my dad kept him there. For six years Gregor was exposed to all those chemicals and it did something to him. My dad was a user and when he got older, Gregor was using, too.
“By that time, business was booming and my dad needed more help. I was six, so he took me back and made me work. That’s how I met Nick Davos. He worked for us.”
“I stayed away from the chemicals and the drugs, so I survived okay, but Gregor was …” Sandor paused to think of how to explain it to Sansa. “He wasn’t right,” Sandor said making a twisting motion by his head.
“Gregor and my dad always used to go off hunting for days at a time. They left me behind to watch the place. I was glad when they went away because it meant they weren’t beating me up. Sometimes when they were gone, Nick would come. We sort of became friends, but you can never really have friends – not in that business.”
“One day, my dad accused Nick of stealing from him. They held him there for days, kept cutting off his fingers. Eventually, they were going to kill him, but I waited until they were asleep and I let him go.”
“Why didn’t you go with him?” Sansa asked.
Sandor shrugged. “By that time I was only ten or twelve. I didn’t know any better. I had no place to go, I didn’t know anyone, my aunt was dead. And …” Sandor took a deep breath. Shame clouded his face. “I’d never been to school. I didn’t even know how to read.”
“A few years later, I was out hunting or getting firewood … something, and … well, Gregor was almost twenty by then. He had a little shack about a mile away. I never paid any attention to it before. I figured it was just the kind of place a boy his age had where he smoked and looked at his magazines … you know.”
“Anyway, I was in that area and I heard a noise so I went there and looked inside.” Sandor looked up at Sansa and stared hard. The look on his face frightened her.
Sansa sat back and swallowed. She looked fragile. Sandor wanted to hold her and comfort her, but there was more to tell.
“He had a girl in there. She was tied to the bed. I won’t tell you what he did, I could never tell you that. But that’s not the worst part. Gregor’s shack was full of hiking equipment. There were backpacks and ski jackets and boots and … they were all women’s. It wasn’t the first time.”
A slowly growing sense of horror was coming over Sansa. Sandor could see it in her face. He had started this though and so he had to see it through to the end.
“I let her go. I don’t know how long she’d been there, but she was in pretty rough shape. I went back to our cabin, maybe to distract them so she’d have time to get away, maybe because I was just in shock. On my way back, they caught me. They knew what I’d done. That’s when I found out what their hunting trips were really about.”
Sandor pointed to his face. “This is what he did to me.” When he looked up, Sandor could see tears starting in Sansa’s eyes. She stayed quiet and listened.
“Gregor beat me up pretty bad. My dad just watched when Gregor grabbed me by the hair and pushed my face into the fireplace. Because I took his toy away from him. He held me down while I screamed. I was fourteen and I was pretty big even then, but Gregor was bigger and stronger and he was cranked.”
“I could feel my face burning away. The pain was bad, but the smell … that was so much worse.” Sandor reached up and pulled his hair down over his face, not even realizing that he was doing it. When he looked up again, Sansa’s face was streaming with tears, the shock and disgust evident on her face.
“When the police got there, they found the cabin and the meth lab. They found Gregor’s place. But they couldn’t find my dad or Gregor anywhere. They were never seen again.”
Sandor stopped and waited for Sansa to get herself under control. Between sniffles, she asked Sandor, “They got away? Gregor and your dad?”
Sandor shook his head slowly.
Sansa crinkled her brow as it dawned on her. “You?” she asked pointing at Sandor.
Sansa covered her mouth with her hands to try and keep from sobbing.
After a few moments, he spoke again. “No one knew what to do with me, so when Nick came and claimed me, they let me stay with him. He taught me to read, made me go to school but I wasn’t there for very long, maybe a year. I couldn’t stand it there so I came up here when I was fifteen. I’ve been here ever since.”
“Why didn’t you leave? You could have gone to the city. You could have gotten help. In the city no one cares if people look different.”
“I had to stay. The girl that I let go? She wasn’t a trekker like you. She was just on a day hike with friends when they got separated and she got lost. She was from around here. When I let her go … she was pregnant. She had a son.”
Sandor watched Sansa’s face, but he could tell she hadn’t quite made the connection.
“The boy is my nephew.”
Understanding dawned in Sansa’s eyes. “He’s Gregor’s son?” Sandor nodded. “Do you ever see him?” she asked.
Sandor nodded again. “You met him today.”